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Republican Party’s top officials want US travel ban on Cuba lifted

20 April, 2007

A plea to lift restrictions imposed by the United States on travel to Cuba has been put forward by two top officials of the Republican Party.

At a forum organised on April 19, 2007, in Washington by the New American Foundation, Arizona’s Republican Representative Jeff Flake and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, called for Congressional passage of HR 654 and S. 721.

Passage of HR 654 and S. 721 would mean lifting the US travel restrictions on Cuba. Recent polls have shown that 55% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, Florida, favours unrestricted travel from the United States to Cuba.

Representative Jeff Flake criticised the Bush Administration’s policies over Cuba as “too Florida-centric” and said many Arizonans want to visit Cuba. He rejected the view that national security is the reason for the travel restrictions.

According to Jeff Flake, there is no place for any travel restrictions being placed on Americans and stressed that such restrictions are the hallmarks of communist regimes.

He revealed that the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not been renewing or granting licences and permits for humanitarians, journalists, academic, and religious groups to visit Cuba and that rather than becoming lax, the Bush Administration is stepping up its travel ban.

According to a Cuban government official, some Cuban-Americans, tired of the US restrictions on travel to their homeland, have applied with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to return to Cuba permanently.

The US travel ban, Jeff Flake said, is having no impact on the Cuban economy and that Cuban economy growing at a pace of 12% annually. The CIA estimates that the growth rate is 7%.

Flake lamented that America’s policy towards Cuba is adversely affecting the US image elsewhere in Latin America.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was even more severe in criticising the US policy towards Cuba. He described the policy as “the dumbest policy on the face of the earth.”

Wilkerson said that, during his recent visit to Cuba, there was no police state visible. He pointed to the openness among the Cuban people, including ministers in Fidel Castro’s government.

He referred to the “lop-sided” US intelligence relationship with Cuba. Cuba shares counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism intelligence routinely with the United States and that there are excellent relations between the US military command at Guantanamo Bay and the Cuban military, said Colonel Wilkerson said.

The US policy towards Cuba is so bad that Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC, has been denied permission to take his children to visit Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, Colonel Wilkerson said. This is because the US bars Cuban diplomats from traveling beyond a 25-mile radius from Washington, DC.



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